This project had an enormous personal impact on me when the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, inspired by the beauty and artwork of the St. John’s Bible, decided to commission artwork to illustrate the denomination’s new Book of Common Worship. I was lucky enough to be the artist to receive that commission, and it has been easily the most important project of my career.
The St. John’s Bible pages are huge. Far larger than I had pictured. They had a number of the painted pages, and (fascinating for me) they also had the collage mock ups that the artists did before beginning in on that actual vellum. The exhibition also included some Medieval French illuminated psalters.
Standing in that room with that long line of Biblical artwork made me feel enormously privileged to be a part of that line of artists through centuries who have interpreted and illustrated the Bible. The book I illustrated will never get the museum attention that the enormous St. John’s project has, but it is in use nationally and beyond for the next 25 or 30 years. I am deeply grateful to have been a part of it.
No photographs were allowed in the exhibition, which I was sad about. I would love to share the collages alongside the finished pages. It was a fascinating journey. But my partner kindly surprised me at the end with the Book of Psalms from the gift shop. I’m thrilled to have a small piece of it to bring home and to remember standing in that space that spanned time, belonging to a long line of artists who contributed to this ongoing work of retelling and interpreting the word. The Book of Common Worship was limited in colors, which suited my printmaking focus, so it has a very different feel. But here are a few photos of my illustrations alongside the St. John's Bible.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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